500 runaways yearly in the Tri-Cities

500 runaways yearly in the Tri-Cities »Play Video
TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- Two local runaways made headlines when police issued Amber Alerts. And now KEPR is digging deeper into the problem with runaways in our community. Is is happening more or are you hearing about it more? We spoke with experts to know what to look for when a teen is in trouble.

Ron McHemry was a runaway. Twice, actually. He knows the feeling of needing to escape.

"A lot of it has to do with signs of depression. Are their eating habits changing? Are their sleeping habits changing significantly? Similar to suicide, it's a different version of a cry for help and you want to do whatever you can to take notice of changes and behaviors and try to determine why," said McHemry, who's now the Associate Director of the local Boys & Girls Club.

McHemry considers himself an exception. He says he's stronger because of his past. And now helps other children.

"We're fortunate that we don't see a lot of our kids runaway from home because we're able to intervene and access resources on our kids behalf," he said.

There were two high profile cases of runaways in recent weeks. Both had Amber Alerts issued before police determined the girls had willingly left with their alleged captors. Elizabeth Romero, 14, is still thought to be in Mexico after fleeing from Kennewick. And Monica Helberg, 16, is still missing after leaving Royal City with an older boy last week. Monica's parents told KEPR their daughter gave no indication she planned to run off.

"For people who have to keep it all together and hide what they're really going through, I would speculate that running away is the escape for them to go somewhere where nobody knows what you're going through," said Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Lindsay Dye.

Richland averages about 150 runaways reported each year, although they had about half that in 2012. Kennewick and Pasco each have a couple hundred runaways reported yearly. Pasco saw a drop last year.
McHemry encourages parents to keep communication open.

"The best thing you can do is simply be an ear, in a non-judgmental way, just listen to what they have to say," he said.

Most runaways return home within a month. The teen shelter, My Friend's Place, is not allowed to take kids in who were reported as a runaway by their parent. The kids who end up there have no one looking for them.